Presented by Titanic Theatre Company
Written by Chris Weikel
Directed by Sarah Gazdowicz
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Cambridge, MA) Titanic Theatre Company’s Penny Penniworth: A Story of Great Good Fortune can be described as a summer panto minus the music, but plus a heaping spoonful of innuendo. It’s a swift, good time for adults who love classic literature (so long as they can take a joke), and refreshing summer theatre.
Penny Penniworth is a play within a play put on by a troupe missing an actor. The troupe puts on an 19th Century English farce of absurd proportions about waifishly penniless Penny Penniworth (Caroline Keeler), the titular character. She and Mama-waif Penniworth (Brooks Reeves) are destitute and at the mercy of the Dickensian stock characters bumbling about them. They run from gothic affair to gothic misadventure until, after a convoluted journey through London, they are returned to their most appropriate fates. It is an incredibly silly play.
Ashley Risteen, Caroline Keeler, Brooks Reeves, and Isaiah Plovnick play all of the characters within this 80 minute camper. They are forced to rely heavily on their stamina, their wits and each other at a breakneck pace. With a lesser cast, this show could be a shit show. As it is, Weikel’s script is a hot but joyful mess. This cast makes sense out of the senseless.
Gazdowicz has stitched the staging together with nibble stealth. The actors get a workout with numerous sight gags and full-contact physical comedy. The pacing is frenetic but the cast as well as the audience gets through it all with as much understanding as one can in such a complicated play.
Gazdowicz’s sound design is excellently timed. The music added to each scene it appeared in. Various and other sundry noises heightened already comedic moments.
The character work is weird but effective. Brooks, in particular, dredged up his Dodgeful Archer/Emory Lane voices from the annals of Jack Sparrow’s drunken sack of mimicry. Plovnick’s stutter for Pinchnose/Pince Nez doesn’t recreate a speech impediment. It takes it to a whole new level of “nope.” That being said, so much of what happens in Penniworth is intended to be offensive. The accents are off; the crossdressing is “funny” because a man is doing it; there’s classism, sexism, abuse, etc. Ablism is just one of the layers of offensive humor. If one is going to be offended, one might as well start from the beginning. There’s no point in being offended only when it’s convenient.
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, Penniworth is a shockingly queer-friendly play with a truly unexpected ending. For all its buffoonery, Weikel treats the LBGTQIA+ elements with respect. As anyone in the community can attest, it is possible to be respectful and funny. As to why Weikel chose this topic to express his respect and not any other, you’ll have to watch and discover for yourself.
We elected a thin-skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.
Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
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